The lead role on The Tick is being played by British actor Peter Serafinowicz, who’s well aware of how beloved previous iterations were. He’s gamely focused on bringing something new to his performance, though… even if it means stealing from his kids.
When I saw Serafinowicz at the Tick panel at San Diego Comic-Con last month, he said that, along with the oeuvre of the late, great Adam West, he’s also trying to channel the declamatory affect of a 1960s American top-40 radio host. The anecdote, coupled with his sudden shift into that style of delivery, made me Iaugh and I found Serafinowicz to be gently funny and reflective when I talked to him on the phone last week. In the edited and condensed version of the conversation that follows, Serafinowicz spoke about the other inspirations he drew from, what it took for him to sign on to the show, and the kinds of comics he read as a younger man.
io9: I haven’t read many of the interviews you’ve done for the series, so forgive me for asking a question I’m sure you’ve heard a lot: What do you feel like are the big differences between your performance and what Patrick Warburton did in the previous live-action version?
Peter Serafinowicz: You know, I haven’t seen Patrick’s version. I’ve seen a tiny clip on YouTube, once while cleaning. And I just thought, “I cannot watch this because it’s so funny and endearing and sweet. I can’t allow this to influence my performance.” Right? [Creator/executive producer] Ben [Edlund] wanted me to do my own take on it. And that’s what I wanted to do as well. And so I couldn’t. But you know — even having said that, even watching that 30-second clip — that still definitely influenced me in some way. So, I don’t know. I’ll watch them, I guess; I do know Patrick’s take was so beloved and I just hope I don’t disappoint people.
There is a kind of uniformity of thematics about the Tick that stays the same no matter who’s playing it, whether it’s Townsend Coleman — the voice actor from the cartoon — or Patrick, or you. I feel like he has this unironic clarity of purpose. He’s almost child-like. Where do you go to channel that?
Serafinowicz: I agree that he’s child-like and certainly Ben would agree. I just did some ADR for some of the later episodes just a few days ago, and I definitely noticed a theme where — it kind of put me aback — the Tick becomes sort of existential. The Tick’s story over the whole series is that he starts to question why he’s here. If you’re up to episode four, that’s about where it happens. He kind of becomes self-aware, and realises he doesn’t know where he came from. And he has no memory of anything before, like, a few days ago.
That scene was surprisingly touching.
Serafinowicz: Yeah. I found a lot of it very touching and quite sentimental, as well, in a pure sense and not schmaltzy. Some of it’s very sad, you know? But things get balanced with optimism. There was one line that I saw in a scene of a later episode — it hasn’t been finished yet — but when I heard it, I realised I was doing my son and daughter, who are 10 and seven, respectively. I copied their delivery. I can’t remember what it was, but Tick was upset about something.
For the Tick to be upset — and you know from being a fan of the character — that doesn’t really happen. And when it does, he gets really upset. When that scene came up and that delivery came up, it really surprised me. I cribbed from my own children. And it’s pretty terrible, really. I’m like stealing from them, you know?
I have a six and-a-half year old. And they speak in this kind of declamatory way sometimes. Just this morning, my daughter was like, “Daddy? Can I take my Pokémon cards to camp?” I was like, “OK.” And the next thing she says is, “The boys usually gather at the table, but today there’s going to be somebody new — and that’s going to be me.” And I’m like, are you kidding me with this dramatic foreshadowing dialogue?
Serafinowicz: Wow. Great. Well good for her! Good. For. Her. I’m so pleased she sounds so confident.
Part of my amazement is because she’s still unaware of the perceptions and complications — like the whole “girls don’t play games” thing. And it’s something also very true of the Tick. When he was giving a monologue about secret identities, he basically says, “Yeah, I just want to be a superguy 24/7.” I thought that was really interesting.
Serafinowicz: You know, there’s a thing that happens. I think, at the beginning, when they were starting to write the series. It’s like, “OK, there’s like 12 episodes.” And Tick is… you could describe him as kind of two-dimensional, really. You know? So if you’re going to watch a show about him, the character has to develop. The character can’t remain the same. How do you do that and still remain the Tick?
I think they really achieved that, actually, because he does develop, but he also remains the same. And I don’t want to give anything away but he does that to my satisfaction, anyway. That was probably the biggest concern of mine. The “how?” of it. Although there are superheroes that exist in this world, he’s like this cartoon character in a real world, right? But this world of the Tick is no more bizarre, really, than the world we live in right now, in many ways.
Yeah, like when he shows up at the house for the party…
Serafinowicz: Yeah. How does this character develop within this world, and how do you change? He has to change. Otherwise, it becomes a joke, or a sketch, or a skit. But he definitely does. And I love that about the show. He kind of changes and grows but is still exactly the same, somehow. It was a tough thing for Ben [Edlund] and [co-executive producer] David Fury to tackle. It was a big problem they had to solve really early on, and I think they did it really, really well. And I’m so pleased with how it turned out.
Obviously, the show is deconstructing the superhero genre. Can you let yourself be aware of the deconstruction while you’re playing the part? Because the Tick is so unaware of how anomalous he is.
Serafinowicz: Well, I suppose I’m sort of aware of some of it, you know, as an actor. In a certain way, he’s quite easy to play. Because he’s got very simple motivations, simple drives. He’s not that complex, really. As far as like the whole tropes of superhero (superheroism?), I’m not like a big superhero buff — I don’t go out and watch all the Marvel and DC movies. I’ve seen a lot of these things over the years, but I’m not like a big comic book nerd.
Image: Marvel Comics
I’m more of like a Bizarro World kind of fan. Like, when I was a kid, one of my favourite comics was Howard the Duck. And I guess that was deconstructing those tropes, and I probably wasn’t even aware of it, you know? And I would also say I don’t really think this show is about superheroes. You certainly don’t have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy it. The whole superhero thing has become so ubiquitous; it doesn’t really matter. I guess it’s like Game Of Thrones; people who watch that aren’t all into the whole fantasy genre. They’re not all into Tolkien. Which I’m not super into, either. But I love that show. I love it.
In fact, it was the [fantasy] thing that made me resist the show. I thought it was kind of silly. Which, of course, it is. But once you’ve gotten into it, you’re like, “It’s one of the best things humans have ever created.” So, yes, I would say to people, you definitely don’t need to be a superhero fan to enjoy this show. I don’t think it’s even about superheroes, really. It’s just about people.
I used to write for fan…
Serafinowicz: I still am, yeah. I still am.
What’s capturing your video game playtime — limited as it must be — the same way Dark Souls did?
Serafinowicz: Nothing will ever replace Dark Souls. For me, it is the pinnacle of video games. And I think the people who get it all agree with me. I love all those five games. The three Dark Souls, BloodBorne and Demon Souls. I love them all.
I didn’t play a lot of those games, but I dabbled with BloodBorne. That felt more my speed. There’s something almost contemptuous in that signature From Software design that I really appreciate.
Serafinowicz: Yeah… it’s got that confidence about it. I like that it doesn’t enforce a story on you. Because you’re picking up the story of the world and why you’re there through the descriptions and items and statues and whatever. It really feels personal, you know? That’s just one of many, many things I could say about [Dark Souls]. It felt like everything I enjoyed about video games, ever, was crystallised and placed into one game. And then with loads of other amazing things added. But I will say the one thing I’m playing still — kind of a cousin, I’d say, of Dark Souls — is Hyper Light Drifter. Have you played that?
A bit, right before it came out.
Serafinowicz: I loved the feeling of bewilderment in that game.
It’s so opaque.
Serafinowicz: Yeah, it’s more obtuse than even Dark Souls. It’s like… you know, I have far less of an idea of what I’m supposed to be doing in that than in Dark Souls. I think it’s absolutely beautiful. And the music by Disasterpeace! It was my favourite album of last year, of any genre. I think it’s just stunning. And that whole game, essentially, is made by two people. I’ve forgotten the name of the guy… he’s the creator of the game, but he does all the art, too. [Note:Tthat would be Alex Preston.] And then Disasterpeace doing the music, those two people — I mean, I know there are more people involved, but it’s essentially two people. Two people did this thing. It’s like… a staggering achievement. I love it.